Last month, Edgar M. Welch of Salisbury, N.C., was arrested after he fired a gun inside Comet Ping Pong, a popular pizza joint in Northwest Washington, D.C. The incident was huge news because of its provenance: Conspiracy theorists on the Internet, based on off-kilter deductions from the hacked and leaked emails of former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, had posited that Comet was a base of operations for a child sex ring. So Welch made a visit to “self-investigate” things.
In an interview with the New York Times’ Adam Goldman, Welch said, “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent.”
Not so fast, Mr. Welch. That appears to be the tack of Ben Swann, of “Reality Check” at CBS46 in Atlanta. Over the course of a month-long investigation, Swann, who has been doing this kind of thing for years, knits together all the reasons the term “fake news” may not be an appropriate label for this national story.
The whole segment — which, according to Gizmodo, aired last night on Meredith-owned CBS46 — can be summed up with this construction, which comes early in Swann’s check: “To be clear, not one single email in the Podesta emails discusses child sex trafficking or pedophilia. That is a fact. But…” He repeats this very juxtaposition later in the segment: “There is no solid evidence that Comet Ping Pong pizza is being used to run a child sex-trafficking ring, but there are some very strange connections between Comet Ping Pong pizza and a second pizza place two doors over, Besta Pizza.”
BUT!!! That’s the all-purpose conjunction for boosting an Internet conspiracy. Behind this word, Swann spins some amazing claims. Among them is the smoking-gun logo change. As Swann alleges, the FBI years ago ID’d symbols used by pedophiles to signal their preferences. As it turns out, the Besta Pizza logo resembles one of those symbols. “The Besta logo actually contains the same image . . . as that ‘boy lover’ image” identified in the FBI document, claims Swann.
And then! “After Pizzagate investigators pointed this out, Besta Pizza changed their logo and . . . they’ve removed the triangle,” said Swann, in a detail that was, like, supposed to prove what?
In any case, Besta Pizza owner Abdel Hammad tells the Erik Wemple Blog that, darned right, we changed that logo. Years ago, Besta Pizza was a Pizza Boli’s, though Hammad had disagreements with the partnership. When the break occurred, Hammad lost the name and the phone number. “We had a new name ready, but we didn’t have a logo ready,” says Hammad. So he assigned someone to devise a logo, and they went with it. Everything was fine until Pizzagate broke out in the fall. “We started getting these phone calls and found out that one of the posts on one of the social media claimed that this logo means that nasty meaning, and immediately I called the people who manage our website to change it,” Hammad tells this blog. Deeply suspicious, Mr. Hammad!
The story thickens, suggests Swann, when you do “an archived search” of Instagram images relating to the owner of Comet Ping Pong. Such an endeavor, relates Swann, turns up “a number of strange photographs and words with strange and disturbing images associated with them. Look, to the point where we can’t show you those pictures. We’re not even going to describe them to you because some viewers would find it too disturbing to share on TV.” Tremendous innuendo transmission. We counted eight repetitions of the word “strange” or “strangely” in the segment.
And there’s even more in this gem of video slime, including references to Dennis Hastert and certain photographs, though we won’t dive into those details here.
At the end of it all, Swann reminds the audience of the lack of proof. Yet: “There has not been one single public investigation of any of this, not from local police, not from the FBI. No one. And that has to be the big question. Not for Podesta or for pizza parlor owners, but for law enforcement. Based on what may be or may not be here, the big question is, why hasn’t any investigation taken place?” asks Swann.
Of all the things Swann says in this segment, here’s the most memorable: “This is a reality check you won’t see anywhere else.”
Attempts to procure comment from the CBS46 station manager have reaped no response thus far.